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Soccer Hopping

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It’s 7:30 a.m. on a Friday vacation day, and I’m still up with my alarm and right to the TV as usual. Game one: Germany versus Serbia. CCB and I cook hot dogs for breakfast and settle in for the match.   Germany should be the favorites here; they had a killer 4-0 win over […]

June 23, 2010


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It’s 7:30 a.m. on a Friday vacation day, and I’m still up with my alarm and right to the TV as usual. Game one: Germany versus Serbia. CCB and I cook hot dogs for breakfast and settle in for the match.

 

Germany should be the favorites here; they had a killer 4-0 win over Australia (not exactly a powerhouse, but still) in what was at this point the most lopsided game of the tournament. (As I write this, though, Portugal just finished up some American football-type whoopass on North Korea, 7-0.) But the ref goes card-crazy from the get-go. A German player racks up two yellows in half an hour, and just like that Serbia gets a 55-minute power play for the rest of the game. They score a minute later. Germany gets a penalty shot 15 minutes into the second half—as close as you’ll get to a guaranteed goal—but the Serbian keeper stands on his head (to mix my sports speak) and preserves the shutout. Serbia 1-0.

 

We’d had vague ambitions of catching that early game at a pub somewhere, but the absence of a definite plan sapped us of the motivation to get up early enough. Never mind; plenty more soccer in the day. Time to take off our PJs and head out.

 

CCB’s cousin is in town for a baseball showcase at Tropicana Field, so our destination for the day’s 10 a.m. game is Ferg’s in St. Pete. Fun to watch the U.S. soccer team in a bar dedicated to the Rays and America’s pastime. Every TV in the place is tuned to the game, and there are about 50 people there, all for soccer. We’re a little late, and the U.S. is already losing 1-0 when we show up. And then, heartbreak: Slovenia scores again before halftime, and the Yanks have a seemingly insurmountable two-goal deficit. The bar goes totally quiet. We mourn with chicken wings and blue cheese.

 

But there’s still hope! Three minutes into the second half, Landon Donovan busts out a zero-angle, point-blank shot to the top of the net, and my phone erupts in more hockey-themed text messages from teammates. “Top shelf!” says Mrs. Harrible; I shoot back “He roofed it!” and continue to pray for a miracle.

 

I’m going to steal Mrs. Harrible’s joke and point out that there’s a Slovenian player named Jokic. Apparently it’s pronounced “yoke-itch,” but, well, I like to say it differently.

 

With less than 10 minutes left in the game, I suddenly find myself on my feet (my chair toppled over 10 feet behind me), shouting and clapping my hands with the rest of Ferg’s. Tie game! And the U.S. team is on a tear.

 

And there it is—the go-ahead goal! GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA—-wait, what? Somebody’s called for something and the goal is disallowed. The replay shows each American player with his own stylish 170-pound Slovenian backpack wrapped around his shoulders. God only knows what that was about, and the place is loud with incredulity. Screw that, man. (But oh, how cool to hear such passion aimed at American soccer—even if the passion has to come in the form of outrage.) The U.S. takes another draw, 2-2.

 

Speaking of passion: Next stop, the Coach & Horses pub on University Parkway for the 2:30 England game.

 

This is what I’m talking about. The restaurant itself is empty, but the bar half (where the TVs are) is packed—people have the Union Jack painted on their faces; St. George’s cross flags are everywhere, on the wall and draped over people’s shoulders. A toddler in a full-on England uniform is playing on the floor. We stand there, a little intimidated, and CCB immediately gets good-natured flack about the Scotland shirt he’s wearing. (Yeah, didn’t think that one through.) We squeeze our way through to the bar and get a couple of pints.

 

Whereas the U.S. crowd at Ferg’s had a sort of reserved hopefulness, this places has a full-on buzz—real energy. And the noise swells like vuvuzelas every time England gets close to the Algeria net. Then, when they don’t score, the disgust is equally audible.

 

One guy, who may very well have been here since the 7:30 a.m. game, is getting loudly, hysterically belligerent at the English players, more and more, at each missed chance. His English accent, though a tad slurred, is awesome, and he incorporates the players’ club teams and salaries into his abuses.

“Put that £10 million to work and SCORE A F**KING GOAL!”

 

“SHOOT THE BALL YOU CHELSEA BASTARD!”

 

I? Am in heaven.

 

In the end, though, the bastards don’t score, and England suffers its second major disappointment in as many games as it ties Algeria—the group’s worst team—nil/nil. Slovenia, of all injustices, still holds the group’s only win and the top spot; top two teams advance, and right now, thanks to the two goals it scored Friday, U.S. has the second spot. But on Wednesday at 10 a.m., U.S. takes on Algeria and England has Slovenia. Anything can happen. I think I’ll be taking my lunch a little earlier that day.